HBO’s new series “The Deuce” is about pornography, but the intent was not to make something pornographic. It is to porn what “The Wire” was to drugs — it’s about the industry, not the morality.

I’m much less interested in whether porn is good or bad in a moral sense,” said David Simon, the creator/executive producer of both series. “I was never interested as much in the morality of whether drugs are good or bad in ‘The Wire’ as I was in how power and money array themselves and how society arranges itself so that some people are victims and some people are victimizers.”

The Deuce” opens in New York City in 1971 at the moment when hardcore porn became legal — when it went from “paper bag, beneath the counter” to a legal business “and everyone realizes that the money involved in that is going to be real.”

Times Square is a cesspool of porn and prostitution, and 42nd Street (aka The Deuce) becomes the center of the porn industry.

James Franco stars as twin brothers — one a bartender, the other a gambler deeply in debt to the Mafia — and Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as a prostitute who wants to be a porn filmmaker. They are among the “pioneers” of what will become a billion-dollar business.

(Photo credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO) Pernell Walker, James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal star in “The Deuce.”
(Photo credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO) Pernell Walker, James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal star in “The Deuce.”

The Deuce” — a fictionalized story based on real-life events and people — doesn’t pull any punches about porn, however. This is a very adult show in terms of language, nudity, sex and violence — including considerable violence against women.

I’m not sure how you make a show and address yourself to what the product actually is and somehow avert your eyes and clean it up,” Simon said. “You start down that road, then pretty soon you’re making ‘Pretty Woman.’”

The Deuce,” which premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on HBO, is anything but a happy-ending fairytale like that Richard Gere-Julia Roberts movie. But, Simon insisted, the intent of the eight-episode first season was not to titillate.

In America, we don’t sell a can of beer or a Lincoln Continental without sexual connotation and sexual imagery that encompasses the world of porn that we’ve inherited and that we’ve created,” Simon said. “That’s what the show’s about. It’s a mistake to say, well, this show is being gratuitous.”

He said it “would be a mistake” to think “that we were in any way trafficking in misogynistic imagery or sexual commodification or objectification” to drive the narrative. “It’s what the show is about. It’s the show’s reason for being.”

Gyllenhaal went so far as to say that “if the show also turns you on a little and then makes you consider what’s actually turning you on and the consequences for characters that are turning you on — of what’s getting you hot — I think it’s a better show.”

(Paul Schiraldi | HBO) Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as prostitute Candy in “The Deuce.”
(Paul Schiraldi | HBO) Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as prostitute Candy in “The Deuce.”

She certainly wasn’t making any apologies for the “The Deuce,” which “includes having to see some things that look violent and uncomfortable. I think if you don’t put that on the table and take a really good, clear look at it, nothing will change.”

Simon insisted that the reason “The Deuce” exists is to understand how we got where we are today, and the part porn plays in this country 46 years after the events in the series.

It’s a multibillion-dollar industry right now that has transformed not only American economy, but also our culture mores — the way in which men and women view each other,” Simon said. “It’s had a profound impact.

I’m not interested in making a piece about 1970s porn … if it doesn’t in some way argue to us right now.”

“The Deuce” is about more than just dirty movies.

If we’ve made something that is purely titillating, then damn us,” Simon said.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.